Thursday, June 25, 2015

Inclusive education enables all children to learn

By Anna Nordenrot

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Anna Nordenrot
Sam Nang Pheap Puthi (right) with his friend Chhim Sothea at Krong Kampot Primary School in Kampot province. In 2010 both boys were diagnosed with visual impairments and placed at the front of the class by their teacher so that they could see better.
 They are both in Grade 5.

KAMPOT, Cambodia, 25 June 2015 – Ten-year-old Sam Nang Pheap Puthi sits on a simple wooden desk at the very front of his class at Krong Kampot Primary School. He sits at the front of the Grade 5 class together with his friend, Chhim Sothea, because both boys have visual impairments. “I have a problem with my eyes, my sight is narrowed and I can only see straight,” Puthi says. “Before I used to sit in the back of the class but I could not see properly. Now my teacher has re-arranged the class and I can sit in the middle and at the front so that I can see.”

Because their school practises inclusive education with a special focus on children with disabilities, Puthi and Sothea’s teacher is trained to assist children with visual impairments. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) and the Disability Action Council, UNICEF has been supporting inclusive education in Cambodia for 15 years. The project is now active in 15 provinces around the country as part of the Child Friendly School framework.

Training teachers to understand and assist with disabilities

The training provides teachers with tools to identify disabilities and adapt their classroom activities to the needs of children with disabilities, for example by moving students around in order to make the learning environment inclusive for all.

“The way of teaching children with disabilities is no different than other children. You just need to know how and what to focus on,” says School Director Pich Sokha Rath. In 2011, his school travelled to Vietnam for a study trip that focused on inclusive education and how to assist children with visual impairments like Puthi. He is very thankful that his school has received support to help children in need of extra attention, but he says that the overall situation in Cambodian schools needs to improve further.

“Many schools in Cambodia struggle when it comes to education for children with disabilities. Schools do not have enough resources or training,” he says. This often leads to children not entering, or dropping out of, school. “The key enabling material is missing and teachers do not have the skills to identify disabilities,” Mr. Pich concludes.

Children with disabilities should be allowed the same access to education as their peers, as stated in the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In practice, however, children are often denied this right. A 2015 report by UNESCO and UNICEF found that children with disabilities between the ages of 6 and 17 are significantly less likely to enrol in school compared to other children. A major determining factor is the lack of teachers capable of assisting children with disabilities.

To address this lack of capacity, UNICEF, together with the Global Partnership for Education and local NGO Krousar Thmey, has assisted MoEYS in the development of specialized education courses. These courses train teachers to focus on specific skills for teaching children with hearing and visual impairments, as well as intellectual disabilities.

Puthi’s teacher, Soy Dany, explains how she supports her pupils with disabilities: “My attention is always on Puthi; I adapt my teaching, for example, by writing bigger and more clearly on the blackboard. Puthi and the other children with disabilities are very keen to learn so I need to give them a lot of special attention. This adds to my workload and I spend extra time preparing for classes. It’s an extra job but a very important one,” she says.

©UNICEF Cambodia 2015/Anna Nordenrot
Sam Nang Pheap Puthi with his teacher Ms. Soy (right) in Krong Kampot Primary School, Kampot province, demonstrating some of the material used when screening children for possible vision problems.
Puthi can follow the class and his performance is improving. His favorite subject in school is Khmer and when he grows up he wants to work at the hospital, like his father. “I am very happy when I come to school now. All my friends are nice and my teacher always pays attention to me and helps me when I need it,” he says.

The training given to teachers on inclusive education is an effective way to increase the capacity of teachers, as well as to raise awareness of the issues facing children with disabilities in Cambodian schools. This helps to reduce discrimination within school as well as in the wider community, as both teachers and students learn about inclusive education. “The important thing is that we treat all children equitably. We are given the tools to support them and to work together without discrimination,” says Ms. Soy before she goes back into her classroom to continue her lesson.

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